A Swing over the Mountain

Jenni rides a swing over the edge e of the St. Ynez Mountains at the Ruins of Knapp’s Castle

I can’t adequately describe what an absolutely magical area of the St. Ynez mountains outside of Santa Barbara this is.  It starts with a walk overlooking the mountains on a dirt road to the ruins of Knapp’s Castle (a mansion abandoned after a fire in the early 20th century).  After the quarter-mile or so walk, off to the side of the mansion ruins, is this area with two rope swings.  We made it there perfectly at sunset- I couldn’t have asked for better light (timing shoots is something Jenni has been getting really awesome at recently!)

Everyone rode the swings while I did my camera thing to get this shot of Jenni swinging with abandon over the edge.

We stayed well past sunset until the clouds rolled in (we literally walked through the clouds to the top of the mountain back to car and drove down to our campsite.)

 

Vasquez Rocks

If you’ve seen Star Trek or Westworld you’ve seen these rocks.  They have been featured in Star Trek the Original Series (season 1, episode 18 “The Arena”) as well as in the 2009 film (the planet Vulcan).

More recently they were featured as a film location in episode 4 of HBO’s Westworld (“Dissonance Theory). It’s an awesome place to hike and hangout with a lot of short hikes and climbs featuring mountains in the background.

I’ve been at this location twice in the last week or so and may go there again.  There’s so much to see. I have a few more shots from here that I’ll be posting over time.

A Bridge in the Forest

It’s been a while since I’ve posted images as I’ve focused more on reviews and basically posted images on Facebook, Instagram, etc instead of here. I feel like I’ve been neglecting the blog.  Good news, I have a tons of images to post so strap in- a lot of images are on the way.

Our RV (aka battlestar) is currently in Soledad Canyon, California. Coming up are Santa Barbra, Joshua Tree and Las Vegas. So yep, more stuff coming (and that’s just the next couple of months; might even been heading to Yosemite in the fall/early summer)

While I’m in California, this image here is Paris Mountain, SC. I photographed it at the early stages of the trek way back in October. It was’t the image I thought I’d capture that day, but sometimes you just happen on a scene that’s the one.

 

Microphone 101: An introduction to capturing audio

Failure is an Option
I’ve been wanting to put together video reviews for a while, so I tried a quick test by shooting a chat about my DJI Phantom 3 Pro.  As you can see (and hear), it did not go so well.  Actually, it went significantly worse than well (arguably, it went significantly worse than bad!).  The footage itself was good, but the audio left a lot to be desired.

So, audio became a quest; I wanted to capture good audio and I was going to get to the bottom of it – one way or another. This video is the result of that quest: a brief tutorial and intro for anyone asking themselves the question: how can I record good audio for video?

What’s out, What’s in
You can flat-out forget about relying on your camera’s built-in mic: whether its on your phone, iPad or mirrorless/DSLR.  Built-in mics are designed to pickup everything and anything.  Audio, in a sense, is similar to photography.  It’s  said a good photo is more about what is left out than what is included.  The same applies to capturing audio: it’s what’s left out that makes good sound.  You only want to hear what you want to hear – not everything else in the environment.

Mics: some options
In short, you have 3 options: lavaliers, shotguns, and boom mics.

Lavaliers are what’s commonly known as clip-on mics.  They sit close to speaker’s  mouth to capture the audio.  This allows for the ambient noise to be left out (though a lavalier can be lowered on the wearer to allow more environmental sounds to be picked up).

Shotgun mics are mounted on top of the camera and are used commonly when you have multiple speakers talking directly at the camera.  In such situations, you don’t want to capture and mix audio from multiple lavaliers.  A shotgun is what you’ll go for.  Keep in mind that a shotgun mic is directional: it’ll capture what’s in front of it.  The better it is, the better it is at keeping the “cone” small.

Boom mics are basically highly directional shotguns on an extension pole (aka the boom).   Just about any mic can be a boom mic really- the boom just gets you closer to the speaker and allows you to turn the mic sensitivity down so it picks up less of the sound in the environment.  Just about every movie you’ve seen has used a boom mic for the audio.  Booms are great, but not very practical for most YouTubers as booms are typically at the higher end of the price scale- not to mention you’ll also need an assistant to hold the mic and keep it pointed at you.

Let’s not forget HandHeld mics: handhelds are great because you can be right up to the speaker and eliminate ambient sound.   They also allow you to a great deal of mobility and the ability to pickup audio from multiple speakers (i.e. they’re great for interviews).  They suffer, however, from the disadvantage of being, well, handheld!  I can never use a handheld, it would drive me insane as I am pretty animated and use my hands a lot when I speak.  You’d never hear me because the mic would be everywhere except near my mouth.

What’s In the Tutorial
Lavaliers

Shotgun Mics

Booms

I also also had a couple handhelds, most notably the Sennheiser MD-46.

Notes on the Audio
You can hear the lavaliers and shotguns in the video- be sure to check it out if you haven’t already.  My two favorite mics were the Rode SmartLav+ and the Sennhesier Clip-Mic Digital (powered by Apogee).  The Apple EarPods were a surprisingly passable option – just about everyone has a set and using them to capture audio is way better than just relying on your camera’s mic.  If you’re the “I like life hacks” type: you now have a new trick up your sleeve!

The SmartLav+and Clip-Mic Digital were pretty close.  The Sennheiser was the stronger mic, but if you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with the SmartLav+.

As for shotguns, the Rode VideoMicro and VideoMic Me are basically the same mic with different mounting/connection options.  They were pretty close in sound.  I did prefer the Rode VideoMic Go even though it is the largest of the three.  I also think the two other mics would benefit from a windsock (aka windscreen aka dead kitten) and would yield better audio if used with one.  The said, the nice thing about the VideoMic Me is you don’t need a mount for it – just plug it into your phone/iPod and you’re good to go.  Keep in mind you can easily use any shotgun with your phone if you use something like the iOgrapher.

iOgrapher with Mic and Light

As expected, the Rode NTG3 performed exceptionally well.  I didn’t demonstrate this in the video, but even a small turn of the mic resulted in a change in amplitude.  Be sure to correctly point the mic or your audio will peak and valley all over the place!  Incidentally, the Auray ABP-47B boompole was fantastic.  The built-in cable made connecting, and handling, the NTG3 a breeze.

And, while we’re on the subject of boompoles, the Rode Micro Boompole Pro ($99) was incrediably  light!  You barely know it’s there – especially when using it with the VideoMicro.

What should you buy
This really depends on what you’re doing.  If you’re just starting out, I’d say start with your earbuds and see if they meet your needs.  From there, you really can’t go wrong with the Rode VideoMicro (if you want to go the shotgun route).  The Clip-Mic Digital, again, would be my choice for a lavalier.

Let me know what you end up with, or just ask any questions you have below in the comments.

Syrp Genie Mini: Motion Control that won’t break your back or your wallet

A Portable Motion Control Head
Motion control gear for video and timelapse isn’t known for its portability.  Motion control heads have been getting smaller, and more portable, in recent years.  Yet, finding a solid, small, but easy to use motion control head isn’t, well, easy.

New to the fray is the Syrp’s Genie Mini.  Priced at $249, it’s  relatively inexpensive for a feature-rich single-axis motion control head that can handle 8.8lbs panning and 6.6lbs titling (more than enough capacity for most camera bodies) .  It’s also small (really small).  It’s Just take a look at how it compares to its big brother (sister?) the Syrp Genie, Radian from Alpine labs, and an iPhone 6s.

From left to right: Syrp Genie, Alpine Labs Radian, Syrp Genie Mini and iPhone 6s

From left to right: Syrp Genie, Alpine Labs Radian, Syrp Genie Mini and iPhone 6s

Elegant Design
At 3.6” x 1.56” it doesn’t take up a lot of room in my camera bag.  It’s also pretty light (8.1oz/230g) and doesn’t add much weight to my gear bag.  That’s awesome for long hikes making it easy to want to bring it along.

It also sports an attractive design aesthetic.  The rubber shell is thick, yet smooth, and soft, to the touch.  I was initially put-off by the cork top (preferring the minimalist black rubber top of its larger sibling,) but the mini’s cork retro styling grew on me.  From a feel perspective, it feels solid and has a nice heft to it.  There’s also no wiggle/play in the head which makes it well suited for captures on windy days (something the Alpine Radian struggled with.)

Bluetooth Everything
Looking at the Genie mini from a features perspective, one stands out: and that’s Bluetooth programmability (with the free Syrp provided iOS and Android apps).  All programming, including firmware updates, is handled by your phone/tablet.  The app even tells you how much battery you have left- a nice touch.

Programming Features
If you’ve used the Genie, the Genie mini will be very familiar to you from a programming perspective.  You can use the app to create a timelapse sequence or video.  You can decide where the mini begins the sequence and ends it.  You also have options for easing-in and easing-out and, when shooting timelapses, you can specify how long the mini will hold the shutter down (allowing for an HDR sequence to be captured.)  Also, if you get confused along the way, Syrp included tutorial videos in the app.  So if you’re setting up a timelapse and get a bit lost, just click on “More Info” and watch a video to figure out what you need to do.

Take a look below at the app screens.  I have screens below for timelapses and video to give you a feel for how the app works.

Single-Axis is cool, but Multi-Axis is Cooler
The mini is a capable device in its own right, but pair it with its larger sibling and you can pan and track.  Syrp even offers an interface cable allowing the two heads to talk to one another.

Track and Pan

The Genie paired with the Genie Mini

That’s pretty cool, but add another Genie mini, and Syrp’s Pan and Tilt Bracket, and you’ll be able to create multi-axis sequences. Both Genies will pair with your phone and the app will identify one as the pan head and the other as the tilt head.  From there, you can program your sequence and be off shooting.  Take a look at the video from Syrp explaining all this.  It’s seriously cool.

Should you buy it?
Put the Genie mini in the highly recommended category.  It’s small, elegant, feature-rich, and can be used as part of an ecosystem of devices allowing for a wide range of multi-axis captures.  Start with one device and add-on as needed.

Syrp has been around for a few years now and has been releasing one solid, well-thought-out, product after another.  The company has an eye for design and it shows.  The genie is an amazing little device for your gear bag.

Where to buy
B&H $249